In God’s House

The challenge is to resist circumstances. Any idiot can be happy in a happy place, but moral courage is required to be happy in a hellhole.

—Joyce Carol Oates

The thing about anxieties is that they don’t go away so much as migrate to other areas. You can never really stamp them out, and even if what you’re obsessing over is, on its face, ridiculous, it’s hard to just forget about it and move on no matter how many times you’ve been through this before. So forgive me if I’m even more self-pitying than normal here, but I’ve been in kind of a reflective mood lately. The holidays are right around the corner, and I’m starting to understand why they’re so stressful for so many people. I mean, the whole point is that they’re fun and festive, right? But it doesn’t seem to go that way for most people. I’m not buying anyone gifts this year. I found a second job (it’s seasonal, but still), which will hopefully enable me to make ends meet for the time being, but beyond that, I’m out. Right now, I have to look out for myself and no one else. It’s just where I’m at.

The crazy thing, of course, is that now I have to fight the urge to indulge in all those things that I’ve been holding back on lately. Even with my income nearly doubling, my personal budget sheet is going to be only slightly in the black. I’m not sure how long it’s going to be before I can move back to NYC. I’m hoping to do it by next fall, but at the rate things are going, who knows? This is one of those cases where I wish I had one of my optimistic (or is it fatalistic?) friends around. You know, one of those people who says, “Oh don’t worry, if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.” I hate that attitude, but it can be rather comforting. I think the universe is a pretty cold, indifferent place, but it’s not completely without order. I also have to figure out what’s going on with my healthcare and other such adult things. I was not happy as a child, so all things considered, that’s kind of a step forward. Even so.

prayer in schoolMy problem isn’t that I’ve never been able to accept responsibility; it’s that I’ve never been very good at kicking back. It’s part of the reason that I spend most of my time off sitting in my room dicking around on my computer: after a long, hard day of doing shit, that’s usually all I have the energy to do. And I’m still not working nine-to-five, which is good, as I don’t want that kind of schedule and likely never will. I think part of my fascination with religion comes with my inability to function in the gritty, messy reality that I live in. I like to think of myself as pragmatic, but since I’m an obsessive perfectionist, I’m probably more idealistic than I care to admit. Some of my favorite co-workers back at the coffee shop weren’t even particularly good at their jobs; they were just fun people to be around. I don’t know how much fun I am to be around, but I try not to let every tiny slip-up at work get to me the way I used to. My father said once that 90% of success is showing up. It’s one of the few valuable things he taught me.

In case it’s not obvious, I’m starting to wind down. I’ll keep writing these posts for a little while yet. I think I am finding better ways to communicate with people than blogging. This thing still doesn’t get many hits, but as I’ve said many times, I don’t even know who the fuck reads blogs anymore. These days, it’s all Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, or what have you. Nobody gives a shit about WordPress. In a way, it’s liberating to know that you have a small but devoted group of followers. It means that you don’t have to work as hard to keep everyone happy. I finished 30 Rock not too long ago. Maybe the reason I like that show so much is that it’s unafraid to include jokes that are so specific and obscure as to appeal to only a tiny percentage of the population. Jenna had a line at one point that was like, “You’ll have to move to the Bay Area. Have fun always carrying a light sweater everywhere.” I know millions of people live there, but still.

I have found that people tend to use their free time more efficiently when they have less of it. This is not at all surprising. I’m working full-time now, so I don’t have too many days to just sit around doing whatever. It’s only natural that I might miss that. Then again, part of my problem in the first place was that I had all this time to do nothing and no idea how to fill it. I loved computer games as a child, but even I could play them only for a few hours every day before thinking I should find something else to do. I actually did spend a lot of time with my friends in those days, it’s just that everyone seemed to think that because I had no obligations, I had nothing to worry about. It doesn’t work that way. My pursuits at the moment are still fundamentally selfish. I’m not looking for a job that will make other people happier, just one that will pay the bills and not bore me to tears. If it benefits other, great. But my motives are not altruistic by any means.

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Eyesight to the Blind

american beautyThere’s a good line in the film The Brothers McMullen where a man who is in his early thirties says that it feels like just yesterday, he was in high school, and his wife replies, “No, you’re at least fifteen years too young for a mid-life crisis.” Where did the mid-life crisis come from? Technically, your forties and fifties are only the middle of your life if you’re leading a very long one, but never mind. I’ve had angst over where I’m going over the past year or so, but absolutely refuse to consider that a “quarter-life crisis”. I guess that term springs from the realization that once you’ve finished school and are trying to start a professional life, you are once again at the foot of a mountain. You can chase the brass ring if you like, but even if you do get it, you’ll look around and ask, “Is this all there is to it?” And the answer to that is no, but the real fun stuff is in between the lines. I keep fixating on that stupid Ben Stiller movie from last year, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which might as well have been called Mid-Life Crisis: The Movie, because if your idea of living life to the fullest is jumping out of a helicopter and skateboarding down a mountain, you need to rethink your priorities.

Kirk Cameron is a real asshole. That’s hardly news to anyone who has followed his career. He peaked at eighteen, then decided that rather than mature into a complex, interesting person, he would like to tell other people how to live their lives. It’s sad, and by “sad”, I mean “infuriating”. I’m not sure if he was all that good of an actor to begin with, but then again, he might have had a pretty good career had he applied himself to learning his craft and not spent all his time going on and on about how much he loves bananas. But what’s frustrating is that somebody is continuing to finance what he does. His movies make money, even if the only people who watch them are far-right Christians. How do we reach these people? Do they even want to be reached? I hate Kirk Cameron for many reasons, but the biggest one I can think of at the moment is making Piers Morgan look reasonable.

I’m trying to find the right balance between being outraged and serene. It’s easy to get burned out following the news. That happened to me when I was writing for a political magazine in college, and even though I didn’t want to write about the news, I found ways to write about it, essentially by taking a step back. The thing that’s got me angry these days is the treatment of livestock by our farming industry. Chris Christie plans to veto a bill that is almost unanimously supported by both legislators and the electorate because it might hurt his chances in Iowa, which depends on pork production. What an asshole. It drives me insane that this guy was reelected in such a landslide, because anyone who is even half-awake can see that he is a rude, temperamental, petty bully who cares less about enacting change than becoming president. (And if don’t think he was involved in the closure of the lanes on the George Washington Bridge just because there is no definitive evidence tying him to it, give me a fucking break. Seriously.) He buried his opponent, Barbara Buono (embarrassingly, I had to look up her name) in the last election, but she is a class act.

I don’t know what to do about stuff like this. There are some people who just sit back and say, “The world has enough problems. I just look out for myself.” There are also people who get very angry over the blatant mistreatment of pigs, but don’t have the tact to engage with people who might be sympathetic to their point of view. I can’t be like that. I have no use for purism, as high-minded and idealistic as I am. I do not believe that Barack Obama is a traitor to his base just because he governs from a more moderate and diplomatic point of view than the liberal firebrands like myself would like. I do not believe that the United States is an evil nation just because we kill people with drone strikes, although I won’t attempt to defend that, as it is appalling. All I know is that I have no use for people who complain about this shit constantly while doing nothing about it. Don’t just donate to the cause or whine about it on your blog (oh hi, everyone); get off your ass. I’ll do that just as soon as I figure out what it means.

I think I need to spend a little bit more time writing fiction. I decided a while ago that writing wasn’t going to be my main pursuit, just a side gig. Fortunately, it’s the kind of thing that works well as a side gig. And I keep saying this, but I really do need to get back into gaming. I’ve missed out on it for too long. There is a part of me that’s glad I’m not in college anymore. College is supposed to be a place where you learn shit and try out shit and hopefully get a clearer idea of what you’re trying to do with your life. A lot of kids seem to mistake that for being right about everything. And I probably sound old when I say that, but that’s the kicker: I’m not that much older than most college students. I remember what life on campus was like, and even then, I thought there were a lot of twits around me whose response to any kind of criticism, even the constructive kind, was, “Fuck you, I’ll do what I want.” That’s not even a response. Refusing to acknowledge the needs of others doesn’t make you sassy and outspoken; it makes you an asshole. And nothing is less humble than talking about how humble you are.

I’m trying to push my limits, to figure out just what I’m capable of. I keep meaning to take up a sport, but never get around to it. I’m not an athlete, really, but there’s no harm in dabbling. Just don’t do things because you’re trying to prove anything to the world, that’s all. The reality is that most people can’t and never will be able to play at my level. I can live with that.

The Angels of Our Nature

I read the final two chapters of The Fault in Our Stars in a bookstore once out of simple curiosity. This is the book that has reduced readers the world over to tears, inspired a blockbuster movie, and as far as teen romances go, definitely captured the cultural zeitgeist. It’s probably a good book. People whose opinions I respect have very positive things to say about it. I guess I just wanted to know if it ended with both of the young lovers dying. (SPOILERS follow.) It doesn’t, which makes sense, because you still have to have somebody to narrate the story. The writing is perhaps a little manipulative, especially the way that Gus describes himself as a “shitty writer” before writing a lucid, eloquent letter that perfectly sums up the story’s main themes. In fairness to John Green, capturing the messiness of colloquial speech, with all of its “likes”, “you knows”, and grammatical errors while staying coherent, is pretty damn difficult. Essentially, the young hero concludes that the only true measure of a person’s life is the other lives that they touched, and that while everybody dies, a person’s lifespan has little to do with the impact that they have. Fair enough. (End SPOILERS.)

I learn that John Green is an Episcopalian and was at one point a chaplain in a children’s hospital. I have heard from other people who have done this that there is no faster way to despair of ever finding any meaning in life or making sense of our cruel, chaotic, capricious universe that to try giving comfort to people (especially children) with cancer. I don’t doubt that. People die having never fulfilled their last wish, be it to meet their hero, fall in love, or even just finish the fucking scarf that they were knitting for their kid as a keepsake. It’s rough. I don’t have any real conclusion there, I’m just saying it’s rough. Then again, do we always have to think of children as such delicate flowers? I think of children as younger people, nothing more, nothing less. It’s probably a bigger tragedy when a teenager dies than a senior citizen, but it’s still death, and that is a fact of life. Maybe the reason I didn’t see the movie when it was in theaters was that I felt like Green was mythologizing adolescence, as if there is nothing in the world as perfect as young love. But I haven’t seen the movie or read the whole book, so what do I know?

Our culture is obsessed with youth. That’s nothing new. It’s why I often feel old even though I am in my mid-twenties and have to force myself to live in the moment and not worry overmuch about my future. There’s the usual factors holding me back: finances, friends (or lack thereof), my complicated relationship with my parents (moving out helped, but it didn’t solve everything, and how could it?), my own neuroses, you get the idea. It’s amazing how much time I can spend obsessing over something that I know perfectly well is a waste of time. That’s the thing about douchebags. It’s not so much that you can’t see that there is something wrong with them so much as that you can’t stop yourself from thinking that if you could get them to listen, they would learn to act a little nicer. I don’t like the divide the world into good and bad people, but there are a lot of people out there who are simply assholes. They’ll die having accomplished nothing of value, and even at their wake, people will be struggling to find positive things to say about them. I’m sorry, but that’s just a fact. I don’t know why.

My roommate spends very long periods of time sitting in front of the TV or doing other shit with it on. I guess he just likes background noise. He’s a painter, so he spends most of his time in the living room painting or watching TV and frequently falls asleep in front of the TV. There are times when I wish he would leave or go to his room so that I could hang out in the living room, but whatever. I’m actually more amazed by his ability to be vegetative for so long than anything else. Seriously, how do you fucking do that? I’ve tried that, but even I can spend only the entire morning playing computer games or something before I think that I should find something else to do with my time. I guess I never learned how to goof off.

There are few things that increase my blogging frequency more than having nothing to do all day. I don’t mind watching TV or reading or doing some other sedentary thing for a while. The problem is that I usually feel like I’m doing it because I have no idea how else to pass the time. I have the good fortune to leave near a shopping center, so I can always go wander around for a while if I need to get out of my apartment. Also, I can walk to work now. It’s not a short walk, but still. And I get a free dinner every night I work, which cuts down on my groceries and means I’m less inclined to go out to eat a lot during the week. Yay. Now I just have to find a second job. Because my bank account is dwindling fast.

It’s no good to sit around all day waiting for the phone to ring. So I try to turn it off or leave it behind when I can. Maybe I will miss a phone call or text, but anybody who can’t wait isn’t worth hearing from anyway, right? Oh well, at least I have other shit with which to distract myself. I feel the need to reconnect with nature.

Idle Hands

I’ve never really gotten the hang of doing nothing. It’s part of the reason I update this blog so frequently and have done so for over two and-a-half years. Seriously, it would take you several days of focused reading to get through the whole thing, and that’s assuming you do nothing else besides eat and sleep. Sometimes I wonder if I would have more readers if I posted less often, sort of a quality over quantity kind of thing. I’m not sure. What I do know is that I spend more time than I should doing shit that I feel like I have to do. My new job is both helping and hurting at the same time. Physically, it’s even more taxing than the last one, and since I’m working more and longer hours, my days off never seem to last long enough. Also, since I get to go home only when I’ve finished everything rather than at a set time, the pressure is really on me to finish everything so that I can catch that last bus/train or whatever. The people I work with are nice enough. There’s just not much to latch on to.

I feel an overpowering need to see Gone Girl. I have a thing for movies about obsession. One of my favorite filmmakers of the moment is Darren Aronofsky, who has yet to make anything that can be considered fun or upbeat, but has a real gift for making visually arresting movies about people in a downward spiral. The Wrestler and Black Swan are two lovely movies that, in terms of structure and theme, are eerily similar. But back to David Fincher. I can understand why some might find him cold and clinical (especially his fascination with serial killers), but I think his movies are consistently good to great. You would be hard-pressed to find a more compulsively watchable thriller than Zodiac, a film that captures the human need to have everything make sense better than anything since 12 Angry Men. See, I don’t see films that are that well-made as depressing. Maybe it’s just that I have a natural fascination with fucked-up shit (one of my favorite authors is Cormac McCarthy), but I actually thought The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo was, for lack of a better word, fun.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: One of the nice things about being an adult is that there is no “have to”. You either feel like doing something or you don’t. If you don’t like your job, leave. Yes, you might have a family to feed, but if your job really is shitty and dehumanizing, you owe it to them and yourself to at least try to find something a little better. Because having a breadwinner who is surly and distant and who treats their time together as just one more thing to get done today is going to take its toll in the long run. I have no intention of ever having kids and even I can see that. As far as I’m concerned, there is no need to ever stop having adventures, so long as you decide for yourself what they are.

Some people just start going through the motions after a while. I’ve never figured out why Rob Reiner suddenly went from making great movies to making crap. Maybe he just got so comfortable with his personal life that he stopped feeling the need to challenge himself? I have no idea. Every couple years, Woody Allen will make a decent film that will be hailed as the start of a late-period resurgence, then go back to making mediocre films for the next few years. It’s pretty apparent that these days, he just makes movies because he likes traveling and writing and getting actors together and shooting. He doesn’t have all that much to say anymore. Most of what he does is what somebody else on the internet referred to as “Starbucks intellectualism”: that is, attractive people briefly pondering the Big Mysteries of Life before deciding that it doesn’t really matter and going off together and being happy. It says something that his most financially successful film to date is Midnight in Paris. From what I’ve heard, Magic in the Moonlight is the sort of thing you see on cable while flipping through channels one night and decide to stick with just because.

woody allenI anticipate my blogging schedule to become a little bit more inconsistent in the coming weeks. I’ll still be updating regularly, as the dogs in my head are still barking and so on and so forth. But I would like to devote more time to my games: jigsaw puzzles, computer games, and board games. I downloaded an old RPG called Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura a while back, and between that and Skyrim, I hope to find myself very engaged during my free time in the coming weeks and months or so. I’m still on a bit of a horror kick when it comes to my movies, so I expect to see more of those pretty soon as well. (I watched Drag Me to Hell last week. Classic Raimi. A good discussion question about that one would be just how much of it happens in the protagonist’s head. I’d say a lot.) So no, I’m not going anywhere, just reshuffling a little. I kinda have to. Because I am still getting over being effectively forced out of my last job and being stuck living with my parents and unable to find an apartment.

With regards to that last bit, I have one more thing to say: It’s depressing when people function as a unit rather than individuals. Because I complain a lot about my parents, but it’s important to remember that even though they are two distinct people, they seem to function more as a tag-team than anything. And that is a problem. Because you can’t just play a role.

The Robot Warrior

redwallMan is least himself when talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.

– Oscar Wilde

I think I need a new job. I just got written up for shitty customer service. Again. I think it’s even less my fault than it was the last time. I was making drinks, and some lady told me that her latte was supposed to be iced. The order said hot, but I remade it anyway. Then she complained that I showed attitude in correcting a mistake that wasn’t even mine. There was also something about me taking a sip of it and saying that it tasted fine to me, but I didn’t do that in front of her. I think I set the latte by the espresso machine and took a drink while I was remaking it, remarking to no one in particular that it still tasted pretty good. My memory of the whole thing is a little fuzzy, but I guarantee that I didn’t do it to taunt her. So essentially, I took the heat because somebody else fucked up and I let my true feelings show. Oh, what a wonderful world.

We also have new management in my store. I’m not going to go into detail there, as that would be unprofessional, and anyway, it’s generally a bad idea to go whining about your job in a public forum, even when it’s an anonymous blog that some of your Facebook friends read. So I’ll just say that we have new management and that they may or may not do things the same way the old management did. And I may or may not be looking for another job. That’s all.

I have a thing or two to say about Michael Sam. As of Monday, he is signed up to be on the practice team for the Dallas Cowboys, making him technically the first openly gay man in the NFL. This is a milestone, but something smells fishy to me. Chris Rock once said that if say, his test scores are lower than a white dude’s, it would be wrong to give him a job or whatever over the other dude, “but if there’s a tie, fuck him”. Because he’s white, he’ll figure it out. See, affirmative action is about the acknowledgment that nothing is 100% merit-based. There is a symbolic value in seeing people who are like you on the field/in office/on TV/wherever. And there are biases in our system so deeply engrained that most of us can’t see them that are designed to prevent anyone who doesn’t make people feel comfortable from making it that far. So if a gay player performs as well as a straight player but the straight player makes the team, I am prepared to go ahead and call that homophobia. Because the straight guy had a head start.

Because I am not in the best of moods these days, I should talk about things that aren’t so shitty. I saw a movie last weekend that I think deserves more attention, a 2006 family film called Penelope that stars Christina Ricci as a blue blood girl who is born with a pig’s nose. It basically aims to be a modern-day fairy tale, and while it doesn’t completely succeed, it was a lot better than its 53% Tomatometer suggests. The big problem with it is that it expects us to believe that prospective suitors would be so repulsed by Penelope’s deformity that they would run screaming from the room. Then again, the film itself acknowledges this by having other characters basically shrug and say, “She has a weird nose, so what?” I think what worked about the film is that it didn’t pretend that all Penelope needed was a man to make her complete (not even a man who is played by James McAvoy) and approached the subject of learning to love yourself and your body with more subtlety than expected. The lesson isn’t so much that you can feel proud of your appearance even if you’re not conventionally attractive, but that you’re probably not that ugly to begin with. Also, Peter Dinklage is in it. With an eyepatch.

When I was a kid, there were three things that I spent most of my time doing: playing computer games, watching TV/movies, or reading. Problem was, that’s not enough to occupy all of my time. My social life has never been where I’ve wanted it to be, and if I had to find the root of it, I guess it would be my need to attach myself to a routine, even if it’s not exactly what I want. Whenever I ate lunch, I would pop in a VHS tape and watch one of the several dozen or more movies we had lying around. Not surprisingly, I saw a lot of them quite a few times. I’ve seen Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Clue more times than I can count. At least two of those are endlessly rewatchable, but that’s not the point. I get very anxious when crashing at a friend’s place because it upsets my sense of rhythm. I’m probably not the only person who has that problem. It’s still a problem.

I haven’t missed an episode of The Daily Show in years. I love Jon Stewart, but I do get tired of him returning to the same old jokes about how deep dish pizza is not real pizza and stuff like that. (Other running jokes, like the Lindsay Graham/Southern belle impression, never get old.) I don’t know what it would take to get me to stop watching. (And in case anyone is wondering, no, I don’t have Asperger’s. There’s a really good animated movie on Netflix about a dude with Asperger’s called Mary and Max. Check it out.) I don’t know what it would take to get my life where I want it to be. I just hope I get there before I die.